Plastic bag issues resurface in Steamboat
March 6, 2011
Bud Werner Memorial Library has added "Bag It" to its film collection. Ask about it at the library, or read about the film and issues it addresses at http://www.bagitmovie.com.
Steamboat Springs — A film screening last week fueled discussion of renewed efforts to significantly reduce the use of disposable plastic bags in Steamboat Springs.
Catherine Carson, of Yampa Valley Recycles, said Wednesday that an ordinance to ban the use of plastic bags in local retail stores or, more likely, charge a fee for their use, could appear before the Steamboat Springs City Council this year. That would revive public discussion that escalated in summer 2007, when a previous City Council asked city staff to explore a potential ordinance to ban plastic bags in large retail stores such as Walmart, Safeway and City Market.
Those efforts fizzled.
"I think last time it just fell apart because it wasn't a priority of council," former City Council President Susan Dellinger said Saturday from Louisville.
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But efforts since have picked up in other Western Slope communities.
Telluride's ban of disposable plastic bags in retail stores went into effect March 1, after adoption of an ordinance in October. Last month, the Aspen City Council "showed general support for requiring a fee on every disposable paper or plastic bag used during checkout at local retail outlets, stopping well short of recommending an outright ban," according to The Aspen Times.
Bob Dapper is director of mountain operations for Christy Sports, which has two Telluride stores and five Steamboat locations consisting of two Christy Sports, two SportStalker stores and one Powder Tools store.
Dapper said that Christy Sports is supportive of environmental efforts but that costs can be challenging for businesses. Their costs for bags in Telluride stores increased from "pennies apiece" to about 15 cents per bag, he said.
"The plastic bags they use in the food stores, we couldn't use — our bags are nice bags," Dapper said. "To duplicate that is not cheap. It's not just a bag you fill with groceries and that may or may not fall apart."
Dapper said Christy Sports employees first ask customers whether they want a bag at all. Providing a quality bag for customers who say "yes" proved pricey.
"We ended up having to source a nonplastic bag," he said. "Because there's very few people making nonplastic bags right now, the price was sky high.
"I think it was inordinately expensive," Dapper continued. "Our first impression in Telluride is that we're not sold on the fact that everybody did their homework on what the solution would be, going away from" plastic bags.
Carson said that Yampa Valley Recycles has sold more than 10,000 of its green reusable bags, for $1 each, but that those sales "have sort of plateaued."
Interest in reducing plastic bag use appears to be spreading in Steamboat.
Scores of people old and young filled Library Hall in Bud Werner Memorial Library on Wednesday night to watch "Bag It," a film about the staggering consumption of modern life and its impacts on marine ecosystems and human health. In addition to telling the story of a young couple's desire to reduce their plastic use and toxic chemical intake while awaiting the birth of their first child, "Bag It" also rolls out, one after another, mind-bending numbers that result from extrapolating personal consumption across countries and continents.
About 12 million barrels of oil per year are used to make the plastic bags that Americans consume — 102 billion bags in 2009 — the film reports. People worldwide use 500 billion plastic bags per year, according to "Bag It," making the ubiquitous, disposable carry-alls the No. 1 consumer item on the planet.
Plastic bags and beverage bottles often wind up in waterways and, ultimately, oceans, where they break down and become food for marine animals that mistake tiny plastic toxins for plankton.
"There are so many bags out there now," said Gigi Walker, who showed up early and stayed late at Wednesday's film showing. Representatives from Yampa Valley Recycles, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Yampatika were on hand.
City Council members Meg Bentley and Walter Magill each expressed support for renewing the public discussion.
"It's a small step we could do in a positive direction," Magill said about plastic bag reduction. "I'd support doing something."
What "something" might be remains undecided. Carson said a fee for disposable bags at City Market, Walmart and Safeway could be the most likely way to start the process, but numerous discussions need to occur.
"We need to speak with the big stores," Carson said.
Meanwhile, amid all the discussions, Lisa Kirkland is finding other uses for plastic bags in her West End Village home. She recently crafted a doormat out of 40 or so plastic bags and has used light-brown bags to create a macramé plant hanger, as well.
She said she'd be in favor of an ordinance to reduce plastic bags in Steamboat.
"I would definitely support it," Kirkland said. "But then I would run out of my craft."
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com
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